- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Walk of Life

The good news: Nobody had to mention walking to describe Noah Syndergaard [1]’s problems in San Diego Wednesday.

The less good news: David Wright [2] had to mention walking to describe his own problems [3] before the same game that quickly became the worst of Syndergaard’s career [4].

“Syndergaard’s career” is, to date, a five-start proposition, so except for denying us extreme wish-fulfillment (a steady diet of shutouts backed by constant 400-foot homers), Thor getting his hammer handed to him [5] is only an issue if you were breathlessly waiting for the Mets to retake first from the Nats on June 2. Would’ve been nice, but it’s only June 3 and Noah is only up to five starts.

Complimenting Syndergaard after lasting only four innings and allowing seven runs on ten hits — but striking out ten and walking nobody — would probably leave him as baffled as young Henry Hill was when he was congratulated in Goodfellas for absorbing his first arrest like a pro. “Everybody gets pinched,” Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway told him. It’s true. He might even get pinched again. As Noah was sent to the proverbial showers early for the first time as a major leaguer, Ron Darling [6] remembered his initial brutal whacking at the hands of a crew of opposing batters. Such a happenstance befell Dwight Gooden [7] and Matt Harvey [8] and, eventually, everybody.

We still don’t know if Syndergaard is on track to be one of the instant greats or will have to work toward a state of very good (which isn’t a bad floor to aim for). A callow pitcher, no matter how destined for potential glory, will encounter speed bumps — several of them. When I watched Zack Wheeler [9] hit his share in 2013 and 2014, I found it helpful to recall Darling expanding the proportion of good starts to bad starts three decades earlier. First there’d be something promising, then something of a clunker, then more promise. Soon the encouraging starts outnumbered the discouraging efforts three to two. Then two-to-one. Then three-to-one. Then you stopped worrying about the kid pitcher because maturity was taking hold.

Since the Mets are in San Diego, Noah’s amazingly Cashnerian outing [10] brought me back to the rookie campaign of Octavio Dotel [11]. Dotel couldn’t have been more Jekyll and Hyde during his first go-around. On August 16, 1999, Octavio was Super Jekyll, flirting hard with a no-hitter at Jack Murphy [12] Stadium. Two starts earlier he outdueled Chan Ho Park [13] and propelled the Mets into first place. Two starts later, he rather easily dispatched the Diamondbacks. It was the starts in between that reminded you Dotel was a rookie. Before beating Park and the Dodgers, the Cubs lit him up. Before mowing down the Padres on the coast, the same team chased him off the mound at Shea. Prior to the Arizona masterpiece, the Cardinals smacked him around.

Octavio Dotel wound up pitching a very solid fourteen seasons, albeit in thirteen different uniforms and mostly in relief. The point is, to borrow from Jimmy the Gent, he took he first pinches “like a man” and he got better.

Getting better is all we can hope for where Wright is concerned. His Q&A session with the media at Petco Park indicates there has to be hope, because at the moment there’s nothing else. David can say he looks forward to playing again this year. Sandy Alderson can say he looks forward to David playing again this year. But when the man whose back is front and center explains, “We’re talking about walking and standing and being pain-free,” can you really envision O Captain! Our Captain! leading the charge onto the infield at any future point in 2015?

Maybe. Given that warmup-clad Wright was surrounded by a mob of reporters (group interviews with players wearing jackets or hoodies are so depressing, because you know there’s an injury somewhere under there), let’s stay with the mob motif and take vague comfort in what Paulie Walnuts had to say to Tony Soprano when nobody could quite nail down what was allegedly wrong with Big Pussy:

“When it comes to backs, nobody knows anything, really.”

Really. Dr. Wright agrees, noting the lack of a “timeline” that could tell him he’s on the road to recovery, or at least one of those hypothetical Mets recoveries, like the one Carlos Delgado [14] is presumably still en route to, according to the recurring updates the Mets issued throughout 2009. He’s going to work hard and try his best, which are very David Wright things to do, and he’ll be here when he gets here. Let’s be optimistic in that regard. As someone who’s spent the past couple of weeks attempting to detect nuggets of good news in a pile of Benny Bell-style shaving cream [15], a little optimism when it comes to someone’s condition eventually improving immensely never hurts.

Even if David Wright’s back continues to.

In the interim, we’ve got our best-credentialed third base alternative stationed at second, our top defensive shortstop anchoring third and the guy who’s reasonably qualified to take second still feeling his way around short. Maybe somebody will shuffle those fellows into their optimal positions shortly. Or maybe, with things going marginally well in Wright’s absence, leaving well enough alone should be the goal. Daniel Murphy [16] at second and Wilmer Flores [17] at short continue to rake, while starting third baseman Ruben Tejada [18] remains startlingly hot. Ride that painted pony as far as he will take you before letting the spinning wheel spin. What goes up must come down, but where Ruben’s recent hitting prowess is concerned, I’m trying not to hear that noise.

Acquiring outside talent might also help, but that’s not an easy task in-season. The period between 2014 and 2015 might have been an ideal interlude to ramp up Met depth, but that’s not how our GM rolls. Still, there have to be options. For example, Delgado’s rehab must be proceeding apace. Last I heard [19], he was due back in July 2009 [20].

Also still not back from injury: Johan Santana. Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated recently caught up with Johan and revisited that magical night [21] of June 1, 2012. He also found out what his old manager thinks after three years, 134 pitches and the long stretch of inactivity that has followed. Required reading for Mets fans.